Last weekend Choteau was filled with yoga enthusiasts attending the Front Range Yoga Festival.
Participation in the first known weekend yoga festival in Montana far outpaced the dream of organizer Rosanne Balasabas, who operates Front Range Yoga in Choteau with outreach classes in Shelby. “The response was so positive, the registrations quickly surpassed what was needed to break even and closed at 85, allowing us to added extra touches to the festival,” Balasabas said.
The instructors and attendees travelled from Billings, Helena, Missoula, the Flathead Valley and small communities in between, along with a good showing from Choteau and the surrounding communities. There were even a few from out-of-state — Virginia, California and Wisconsin.
There were 23 different classes or workshops held in “studio style” space above Curly Willow Floral and Gifts and the American Legion Hall, at the Choteau Art Studio and in the former Satya Yoga Studio next door. Participants took part in a dinner Saturday night at the Stage Stop Inn, followed by live music.
Balasabas, a dedicated yogi who teaches yoga in Choteau, said the idea for the festival started as a way to debut yoga pants she wanted to design and create. Quickly discovering there were many challenges in designing yoga clothing, her efforts shifted to organizing the festival. “The response was so positive for the festival from the very beginning, it just took off and came together,” she said.
While living in Colorado, Balasabas volunteered with a festival. She only knows of one other yoga event in Montana, a one-day gathering in Missoula.
The support of a core group of volunteers and the community of Choteau were key in the success of this pilot program, Balasabas said.
She expressed appreciation to Claire Hodgskiss from Choteau and Leigh Clausen from the Flathead Valley for helping to organize the festival. Heather Hodgskiss of Pivot Physical Therapy opened her business for registration and put together a fun shop for attendees to buy from, and Balasabas said many others volunteered time and various Choteau businesses allowed the use of their buildings.
Clausen said Choteau was the perfect location to hold a yoga festival. “It is just a lovely and peaceful place,” she said.
One of the features that made the festival so successful was being able to host almost everything within a block. “Being able to walk from class to class and stop and visit with each other or at shops between was ideal,” Clausen said.
Clausen taught one of the classes and so did Robin Lund from Helena. She echoed Clausen’s comments. “The location was perfect,” Lund said. “You wouldn’t get the same vibe if you were to hold a festival in, say, Helena or another larger location in Montana. Choteau has a central location and the right feel for the festival.”
Clausen and Lund said in visiting with other attendees, they were hearing the same comments. First, they were enjoying Choteau and secondly, they were so excited to be attending a yoga festival, Lund said.
The Montana yoga community is growing throughout the state. Lund said she has been in contact with fellow instructors through Instagram, but it was so exciting to put a face to a name.
“What a great way to put our area on the map,” said Choteau’s Cathy Sessions, who attended the festival. “It was a well-scheduled two days packed full of opportunities to connect with yourself and others. The instructors were amazing, and I took something I could use away from each class.”
Sessions said Sunday, at the end of the festival, that she couldn’t wait to reconnect with new and old friends at next year’s retreat.
Jill Owen not only saw the benefit of the two-day festival in Choteau as an owner of Choteau’s Mountain Front Market, but also as a participant. “It was just a lot of fun,” Owen said. “It was exciting to see so many visitors in the community over the weekend. Some have driven through Choteau. but this festival gave the opportunity to stop and enjoy all the town has to offer for the weekend.”
Owen saw a little bump in business from the festival. To accommodate festival participants who wanted to shop, Owen opened her natural food store on Sunday afternoon.
On a personal note, Owen said it was fun to be able to attend a variety of yoga classes taught by different instructors.
Amy Bechtold, owner of Curly Willow Floral and Gifts, had her shop open all weekend for those attending the festival. Bechtold was excited for the extra foot traffic created by those attending. “It was just the perfect time of the year to add an event in Choteau,” she said. Her shop was in the perfect location, as classes were held above both her shop and the American Legion Hall.
“It was wonderful to see new faces and discover where they were from,” Bechtold said. “Those attending the festival were so very positive and happy to be in Choteau for the weekend.”
Barb Bouma, manager of the Stage Stop Inn, said it was a bonus to have extra people in town for the weekend. “Main Avenue was busy both Saturday and Sunday,” she added. Saturday night’s activities, a meal and music, were held at the Stage Stop Inn and a number of participants stayed at the Inn.
“The organizers over-sold their estimated participation of those planning to attend the festival,” Bouma said. Visiting with some of those attending the festival staying at the Inn, Bouma said the comments were very positive and excited for the future of the festival. “Sure sounds like there is room for growth and bringing more visitors to Choteau,” she said.
Before the weekend was over, the yogis were already planning for a return to Choteau for next year’s festival. “The same weekend is already booked with the goal of expanding and growing the event,” said Balasabas.
With the help of Choteau Area Port Authority, Balasabas has received a $6,050 grant from the Montana Department of Commerce to help expand the 2020 Front Range Yoga Festival.